Walter Olson: “The laundering of evil”

As I note below, the New York Post broke the story today that Weather Underground terrorist Kathy Boudin has landed an adjunct professorship at the Columbia School of Social Work and is also a “scholar in residence” at NYU Law. In his book Schools for Misrule: Legal Academia and Overlawyered America (Encounter, 2011), Cato Institute Senior Fellow Walter Olson writes about the propensity of sixties extremists (Bernardine Dohrn, Angela Davis, etc.) to turn up on the law school circuit, or as professors. Walter sends us this timely excerpt of the book:

The farther shores of leftism are amply populated as well. Among the renowned career successes of the modern law school is that of the former Weather Underground terrorist Bernardine Dohrn at Chicago’s Northwestern. Given her past as an FBI Most Wanted List long-timer, Dohrn couldn’t practice law and had never held a teaching position, but that didn’t stop Northwestern from hiring her to run what developed into a high-profile national clinical project in juvenile justice. Dohrn’s presence on the faculty provoked some dissension — “I thought that what we were doing was participating in the laundering of evil,” Professor Danial Polsby, then on the faculty, told the Chicago Tribune – but the school’s dean vigorously defended her. Notoriously, the New York Times’ profile of Dohrn and her equally unapologetic husband and former underground colleague, Bill Ayers, ran in the paper, under the headline, “No Regrets for a Love of Explosives,” on the morning of September 11, 2001.

Then there’s the remarkably friendly reception accorded to Lynne Stewart, a New York lawyer from the farthest fringes of left-radicalism, who was convicted and disbarred in a high-profile case for unlawfully helping one of her clients, the Islamic terrorist Abdel Rahman, pass messages out of the country to his followers. (Despite the ideological differences between the two, Stewart apparently admired the “Blind Sheik” Rahman as someone at war with the capitalist U.S. government.) Free while her appeal was pending, Stewart embarked on a tour of law schools and other campuses organized by admiring supporters. (Others who’ve made the rounds on the radical law school speaking circuit include Kathleen Cleaver, a former high official of the Black Panther Party and now a senior lecturer in law at Emory; the former Ten Most Wanted fugitive and terror acquittee Angela Davis, given a standing ovation at Harvard as part of the inaugural program of Professor Ogletree’s new institute on race and law; and Laura Whitehorn, a member of a Weather Underground splinter that bombed the U.S. Capitol and seven other buildings.)

The key to success on this particular speaking circuit is to come across as entirely unrepentant and even more radical than the audience dared hope. Stewart did not disappoint, explaining in one interview that yes, she did look favorably on violence when it was “directed at the institutions which perpetuate capitalism, racism, and sexism, and at the people who are the appointed guardians of those institutions and accompanied by popular support.” Her words on another occasion confirm that Stewart is no namby-pamby practitioner of let’s-be-nice civil libertarianism: “I don’t have any problem with Mao or Stalin or the Vietnamese leaders or certainly Fidel locking up people they see as dangerous. Because so often, dissidence has been used by the greater powers to undermine a people’s revolution.”

When Stewart’s campus visits took place under the sponsorship of like-minded student organizations, as was mostly the case, they hardly registered as more than the screech of ideological background noises one gets used to hearing on campus. But people did notice when Stanford Law School, which vies with Yale as the most prestigious and competitive of them all, invited Stewart to serve as a “Visiting Public Interest Mentor.” Even at Stanford, this was enough to touch off a furor, and Dean Kathleen Sullivan – much to the outrage of some in the school’s “public interest” community – stepped in personally to see that the invitation was withdrawn.

Lesson learned? Maybe at Stanford itself, but not at New York’s Hofstra Law School, which proceeded to invite Stewart to lecture on legal ethics as part of a major annual conference, on a program studded with vocal supporters of her case and bereft of vocal critics. This time the outcry was bigger and broke into the national press, at which point the school hurriedly revamped the program to ensure that critics of Stewart would have a conspicuous role as well. It also was obliged to drop continuing legal education (CLE) credit for Stewart’s panel, after it was pointed out that a New York law forbids the awarding of CLE credits for courses taught by convicted felons.

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